Sometimes, being vindicated takes time, risk, and provocation. Such is the case with Mindy Costa, who’s actions in fighting vexatious laws quietly liberated the residential gun owners of Torrance and those transporting firearms through the city from a little known municipal code that made most firearm owners within the city and those traveling through the city with firearms potential misdemeanants – despite complying with California firearm transportation laws.
On November 29, 2011, Mindy Costa was traveling through the City of Torrance with an unloaded handgun properly stored in a secure locked container – pursuant to California law. (Penal Code §§25515 & 25610(a).) Local law enforcement allegedly witnessed Ms. Costa placing the firearms into the vehicle and requested that a stop of Ms. Costa’s vehicle be initiated.
As a result, Ms. Costa and her passengers were pulled over by another officer responding to the reporting officer’s requests. The responding officer took umbrage to the fact that Costa and her passengers were transporting their firearms and exercising their firearm rights. As a result, the responding officer arrested Ms. Costa – alleging that one of the unloaded handguns was contained in an unlocked container. The entire incident, however, had been recorded on video and the container’s lock can be seen during the incident in the locked position.
THE CRIMINAL CASE:
The arresting officer had originally cited her for felony possession of an unloaded firearm in a public place. Upon viewing the recordings, her lawsuit was rejected by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office. Her case was then passed down for misdemeanor prosecution by the Torrance City Attorney’s office. As her case moved through the justice system, it became clear that prosecution had no case under California law. They did, however, have one saving grace, a little know local ordinance that prohibited the carrying of firearms throughout the City of Torrance – even if they were carried in accordance with California law.
Despite her having possessed the firearms in compliance with California law, a criminal Complaint was filed against Ms. Costa for violation of California’s firearm transportation requirements – arguing that the firearm was not in a “locked” container. After much haranguing about the video demonstrating that the firearm was contained in a locked container, the Complaint against Ms. Costa was amended to include a misdemeanor violation of Torrance Municipal Code section 45.3.5, which regulates the possession of weapons in automobiles as follows:
It shall be unlawful for any person to have in his possession, in any automobile, any dangerous or deadly weapon; provided that this restriction shall not be deemed to prohibit the carrying of ordinary tools or equipment carried in good faith for use in any honest work, trade or business or for the purpose of legitimate sport or recreation.
Because Ms. Costa was transporting her firearms for self-defense, and not for work, trade, business, or for the purposes of sport or recreation, the express exceptions provided did not apply to any of the firearms carried within the vehicle.
Moreover, because the firearms (both rifles and handguns) in Ms. Costa’s vehicle were transported solely for self-defense purposes and because Ms. Costa did not possess the requisite California License to Carry a concealed handgun issued pursuant to Penal Code section 26150 et seq., she did not qualify for the remaining exemptions contained in the Torrance Municipal Code definition of “Dangerous or Deadly Weapons,” which states:
For the purpose of this Article, the term dangerous or deadly weapons includes, but is not limited to: . . . any firearm other than: 1) one carried pursuant to a valid permit, issued by a duly authorized governmental authority, or 2) an ordinary rifle or shotgun lawfully carried for purposes of hunting or other lawful sport.
(Torrance Municipal Code 45.3.1.)
In short, The Codes prohibited the transportation, within a vehicle, of any rifle or shotgun possessed for self-defense or any handgun possessed for self-defense unless possessed pursuant to a license to carry issued under Penal Code sections 26150 et seq. – even if those firearms are carried in accordance with California law.
As the case approached trial and through the argument’s of Ms. Costa’s criminal defense attorney, the criminal case against her was dropped and Ms. Costa was free to go about her life feeling molested and violated by a police department’s harassment. Lingering over her was the fear of future prosecution for her exercising her fundamental right to keep and bear arms.
THE TORRANCE MUNICIPAL CODE ISSUE:
The entire incident caused Ms. Costa to be aware of the unlawful scope of the Torrance Municipal Codes regulating transportation of firearms. Though there are no exemptions for rifles and shotguns possessed for home protection, the Code does provide a red herring exemption for handguns carried pursuant to California licenses to carry a concealed handgun. But, this exemption has no practical impact on the ban since it has been the long-standing practice of the Torrance Chiefs of Police not to issue such permits to citizens. As such, for law abiding residents, the Codes have the effect of a complete ban on the acquisition, possession, and use of firearms for self-defense purposes within the home. How are Torrance residents who purchase firearms for self-defense supposed to bring their firearms home for self-defense purposes if they don’t have a license to carry firearms? How can residents lawfully travel to and from the shooting range for training and practice with said firearms if they do not have a license to carry firearms?
Clearly, this Code is being enforced – as evidenced by Ms. Costa’s misdemeanor charge. And, this isn’t the first time that the law was used to intimidate firearm owners either. The August 20, 2009, Torrance Police Training Bulletin specifically cited the ordinances as a method of prosecuting those individuals who otherwise lawfully transport firearms within the City. Ms. Costa believed something had to be done to address these unlawful ordinances.
Knowing that the ordinance was a violation of her Constitutional rights, Costa vowed to do all she could to have them repealed. Working with Davis & Associates, Costa submitted a series of letters and dialog with the City Attorney’s Office challenging the ordinances as a violation of the Second Amendment and as being preempted under California law.
Early on in the communications, the City Attorney’s office contacted Davis & Associates and stated that they intended to put the ordinances up for repeal at the earliest possible time. The situation was monitored for months, but the City of Torrance took no action. On April 23, 2014, a final demand notice was sent to the City of Torrance informing them that a lawsuit would be filed if the is no indication that the unlawful ordinances will be repealed within 60 days.
THE QUIET REPEAL:
Shortly thereafter, the City Attorney’s office contacted Davis & Associates and informed them that they were not aware of the previous promise to repeal, but they fully intended on repealing the ordinances. As evidence of their intent, the City Council’s vote to repeal the unlawful firearm restrictions was scheduled for August 5, 2014.
Prior to the vote, in a surprising move, the City Attorney’s office did recommend the repeal of the ordinances, but the notice to the public was void of any reference to the actual basis of the ordinances being repealed. There was no mention of the words firearms, guns, or licenses to carry. There was no mention of the demand letter. There was only references to the specific code numbers and a claim that the ordinances were archaic and not being enforced (despite the attempted prosecution of Ms. Costa and the Torrance Police Department’s Training Bulletin evidencing the contrary). One can only assume that the vague nature of the recommendation was intended to diminish the public awareness of the incident and the unlawful firearm laws.
On August 5, 2014, the City Attorney recommended to the City Council that these specific ordinances be repealed and that other references to these sections be deleted. By a unanimous vote, the motion to repeal the ordinances and delete the references to the unlawful provisions was carried unanimously by a 6-0 vote.
On August 12, 2014, the ordinance to repeal the unlawful sections of their codes were brought up for a second reading (as required by law), and the motion to adopt their repeal was again passed unanimously by a 7-0 vote. With that, Torrance’s unlawful restrictions on the transportation of firearms within their City was resolved without fanfare and without any real notice to the public as to what actually happened or why. But, in the end, the efforts of Ms. Costa had vindicated her actions and helped pave the way for current and future firearm owners to safely travel in and through the City of Torrance with firearms.